Annals of Russian “Tennis”
Last week in Melbourne the first grand slam tennis tournament of the year, the Australian Open, concluded. Only three of the 32 male seeds in the tournament were Russian, and not a single one of them made it out of the third round. By contrast, three out of the four spots in the semi-finals on the women’s side of the tournament were filled by Russians, who held fully one fourth of the 32 available seeds and half of the top ten seeds..
You sure wouldn’t dare refer to Russia’s male tennis players as girly men. They wish! What’s wrong with these “men”?
Then again, to say that Russia’s male players are not as good as its women is to damn with darn faint praise indeed, since the performance of the women down under was also an abject disaster.
In their defense, one can point out that the seeded Russian men were more than three times less likely to meet another feeble Russian player on their way to the finals than were the women, and facing a Russian is one of the most reliable ways of advancing in a pro tournament (no Russian woman who lives in the country has ever won a grand slam event by beating a non-Russian in the finals). You can also make note of the fact that the performance of Russia’s women was hardly awe-inspiring.
Dinara Safina, for instance, reached the women’s semi-finals, but two of her five matches before that point came against fellow Russians. Vera Zvonareva got there too, but her fourth-round match came against a fellow Russian.
Of Russia’s three semi-finals contenders, only Elena Dementieva did not have a match against a Russian on the way there. She had, though, something even better: Although she was Russia’s second-highest seed in the tournament (and the fourth highest overall), she had to face only one seeded player in her first five matches, and that was the lowly #18 seed, a Slovakian player who had never before been past the first round of the tournament. Zvonareva, by contrast, faced two seeds (including #10 and #16) and Safina did too (#15 and #25), and at least one of the two was a higher-ranked seed than the one Dementieva drew.
In other words, Dementieva was surely the luckiest woman in the group, her road to the semi-finals nothing but a cakewalk.
Meanwhile, none of Russia’s three semi-finals contenders had to face world #1 Jelena Jancovic or the equally dangerous Ana Ivanovic, or the mighty Venus Williams, last year’s Wimbledon champion, since all three lost early in the draw. Russia’s Marat Safin, by contrast, was dispatched in the third round by the mighty world #2 Roger Federer, whilst Russia’s highest seed, Igor Andreev, was whipped by the powerful #9 seed James Blake in the same round.
Dementieva then went on to face 9-time grand slam champion Serena Williams in the semi-finals, where she proceeded to serve an pathetic 8 double faults, handing Williams two full games worth of free points. By contrast, Williams served an awesome ten aces, seven more than Dementieva, and crushed the Russian in easy straight sets even though she served a weak 53% and struck 34 unforced errors, six more than Dementieva. In other words, Williams brought her “B” game and it was still more than sufficient to pulverize “the demented one” as Dementieva’s fellow players call her.
Williams met Safina in the finals. Safina had defeated Zvonareva in their semi-finals match, meaning that fully half of Safina’s pre-finals matches in the tournament had come against fellow Russians, the most such matches of any Russian in the tournament and the obvious reason for her presence in the finals. Had one of of the Russian guys been equally blessed, one of them might have made it all the way as well.
Safina was able to roll past Zvonareva in straight sets even though Safina struck a laughable 42 unforced errors, more than twice as many as Zvonareva, and served at a woeful 56%, 6 points lower than Zvonareva, with five double faults. That tells you what knowledgeable tennis fans already know: that a match between two Russians is a joke, a mere matter of which one will play less horribly and therefore “win.” With three of the four semi-finals contenders being Russian, the whole tournament had become largely an unwatchable charade. If such a situation were to continue, the entire future of the women’s game would be called into serious question.
Given the absurdly easy road Safina had enjoyed getting to the finals, it was harldy any surprise at all when Serena rolled over her with laughable ease. The two played just 15 games contesting the championship, and Safina was able to win only 3 of those games, going down in the first set without taking a single one. Safina served five double faults to none for Serena and struck three times more unforced errors, getting dominated and routed in every aspect of the game as a result. The Williams sisters also prevailed in the ladies’ doubles finals, and America’s Bryan brothers took the men’s doubles title, giving the U.S.A. three of the four main trophies at the event, a bravura performance and a very bitter pill for the Russians to swallow indeed.
Serena Williams, who needed just 22 minutes to take the first set of the Australian Open finals from Safina and less than one hour to take the title, now by herself owns more grand slam singles victories than all men and women playing for Russia have won combined in tennis history and twice as many as all Russian women have earned in the history of the game put together.
Knowledgeable fans will readily recall that Serena did to Safina exactly what she had done two years before to Maria Sharapova in the finals that year, crushing the top-ranked Russian opponent and allowing her only three measely games in a one-sided charade that was more like comedy than sport.
So once again, those who paid big money for seats at the finals left feeling cheated because of the presence of the Russian pretenders. The only thing which could have made it worse would have been if two Russians, rather than just one, had been present. Indeed, since Serena defeated Russians in quarters, semis and finals, one almost has to put an asterix on her title. Those three Russians only managed to take one set from Serena in the course of three matches, and won only 23 games to Serena’s 42. She dominated three of Russia’s top four seeds in the tournament, including easy straight-set victories over both of the top two. In short, she exposed Russian tennis as a sham.
Once again, Russia’s seemingly impressive large contingent of female players entered a grand slam tournament full of supposed promise and left with nothing but shame, disgrace, and humiliation, having been exposed as a Potemkin squad with no personality (Safina’s brother Marat, for all his woeful play, is at least a colorful figure on the court, whilst his sister is a pallid robot) and certainly no greatness, simply unable to cope with superior foreign players.